Rome, Ga., is a small city that is proud to be as American as baseball. But, in recent years, its pride and prospects have taken a hit as American companies that once employed many of its 35,000 residents have left — some outsourcing the work to cheaper labor overseas.
So Rome's civic leaders, led by Chamber of Commerce President Al Hodge, decided to turn the trend in their favor by luring foreign companies to preserve Rome's all-American way of life.
“Happily, we are ‘in-sourcing’ instead of ‘out-sourcing,’” says Hodge.
Seven foreign-owned manufacturers now call Rome home, bringing 1,000 much-needed jobs in just the last four years — including Pat Moss' manager's post at Suzuki.
Moss spent 15 years in a textile mill, watching its business and his own plans shrink. Things are different at Suzuki.
“Production volumes look good,” says Moss. “Orders for our product are increasing. So, I feel very confident in my future.”
Drawing foreign manufacturers to the city 75 miles northwest of Atlanta is an international school, four colleges and a sliding scale of property tax breaks determined by what companies bring.
“Literally, it's the dollar amount of investment, the number of jobs, the pay and the fringe benefits,” says Hodge.
Hodge admits, the more the companies give, the more they get.
But Rome's biggest appeal is the workforce the American companies left behind. Japanese auto parts maker F&P now uses some of those workers to build suspensions and pedal parts.
“They have the baseline skills already,” says F&P General Manager Tom Troyan. “I think any company needs to train their own associates in a manner they would like to, and that's what we do here.”
And there's help from the state of Georgia to do just that. Even the relics of Rome's past, like a textile mill, are being put to work. The shuttered factory — almost 1 million square feet — is being subdivided into new spaces, hoping to attract new business.
But while there are new factories and shops, the benefits have yet to reach all parts of Rome's economy — like Bill Pelfry's furniture and electronics store.
“A lot of these folks were unemployed,” says Pelfry. “It's difficult to make the type of purchases that we have when you're trying to get by — on what you've been getting by on — which was not a whole lot for quite a while.”
Still, there is a growing sense of momentum that Rome's comeback is under way and hope that its real glory lies in its future, not its past.